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Labour Wrap: The real lessons of Marikana

Aug 18 2016 05:00
Terry Bell

THE August 16 2012 massacre at Marikana and the ten deaths in the week leading up to it should not be seen in isolation or as a series of aberrant acts, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap. Nor, as now suspended police chief Riah Phiyaga noted at the time, did the massacre represent “the best of responsible policing”.

The circumstances surrounding those deaths provide a bloody and tragic lesson about the reality of South Africa’s mineral wealth, says Bell. As such, Marikana should become a reminder of a brutal industrial history and a symbol for the struggle to improve the lives especially of miners, but also of exploited workers everywhere.

The 17 striking miners who died before television cameras in a hail of gunfire, the 17 killed out of sight at “Scene 2” while apparently running away, and the other ten workers killed during the week, all died there and then. But in rural areas throughout the subcontinent, thousands of miners have died - and continue dying - horrific and lingering deaths in often desperate poverty. They too represent a direct consequence of the circumstances that gave us Marikana and which made a minority extremely wealthy.

And as these are the conditions under which most miners still live, their pay and the chaos of the legislative framework that applies to them is the bigger question, says Bell.

These were the reasons behind the anger and frustration that led to the Marikana strike, just as they led to earlier confrontations such as those at Impala Platinum. And it was similar, although worse, conditions that led to the strike of August 12 1946.

That strike, crushed by bullets, batons and bayonets, saw 12 miners killed and 1 200 wounded. The difference from Marikana is that conditions have marginally improved, along with wages. But, says Bell, there is a very long way to go and while squalid conditions exist and pay and compensation remain at issue, industrial peace will remain elusive.

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